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The Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming addressed our nation's energy, economic and national security challenges during the 110th and 111th Congresses.

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Markey to BP: How Much Oil?

Sends Investigatory Letter to BP  to Gauge True Size of Flow

Following several independent analyses reported in the media indicating a daily flow upwards of 70,000 barrels of oil from the Gulf of Mexico BP spill, Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) today sent an investigatory letter to BP to ask about the actual size of the flow and how it could hamper efforts to stop and contain the spewing oil in the Gulf of Mexico.

“The public needs to know the answers to very basic questions: how much oil is leaking into the Gulf and how much oil can be expected to end up on our shores and our ocean environment?” asks Rep. Markey in the letter. Rep. Markey chairs the Energy and Environment Subcommittee in the Energy and Commerce Committee, which is leading an investigation into the spill. “I am concerned that an underestimation of the flow may be impeding the ability to solve the leak and handle management of the disaster. We have already had one estimate that grossly underestimated the amount of oil being released and we cannot afford to have another,” Rep. Markey continues in the letter.
At the first Congressional engagement on the matter held by Rep. Markey on Tuesday, May 4th, with BP, Transocean and Halliburton, BP officials responded to a question from Rep. Markey about a worst-case scenario, saying that a maximum estimated flow would be 60,000 barrels a day, with a mid-range estimate of 40,000 barrels a day.

And on Wednesday, testimony from the companies before the Energy and Commerce Committee focused on an estimate of 5,000 barrels a day.

The questions Rep. Markey asks in the letter are listed below. The full text of the letter can be found here.

  1. Prior to the incident, did BP already have an estimate of the maximum amount of oil that could be expected to flow from this well under normal conditions?
  2. What was the basis for this estimate?
  3. Please provide all documents that relate to the amount of oil that could be expected to flow from this well, including any estimates of  profits that this well was projected to generate.
  4. What is the BP method and scientific basis for the estimate of 5,000 barrels per day?  Was this estimate based solely on surface monitoring of the size of the spill?
  5. Were all or any of the latest methods that are available today for estimating the amount of such a spill employed?
  6. Please provide all documents created since the incident occurred that bear on, or relate to, in any way, estimates of the amount of oil being released.
  7. What is the basis, if any, for the worst case estimate of approximately 60,000 barrels per day provided to the Energy and Commerce Committee during a May 4th briefing?
  8. Was BP, as has been reported in the press, offered an opportunity to use the latest technology for estimating the volume of oil flowing from the pipe?
  9. Did BP accept or refuse any such offers and has BP used the latest technology to estimate the volume of oil flowing from the well?
  10. Has BP used any subsurface technology to estimate the amount of oil flowing from the well? If so, please provide the results of any such efforts.
  11. Is it accurate to suggest as BP Vice President Kent Wells did recently that "There's just no way to measure it?"  If so, then does BP stand behind the current estimates of the amount of oil flowing or not?
  12. Could an increased flow from the riser pipe affect proposed or attempted efforts to stop the flow of oil, such as the failed containment dome strategy, the so called "junk shot” strategy, attempts to place an additional pipe into the riser, and the drilling of relief wells for plugging the well bore?
  13. Please indicate for the record BP's current estimate of the amount of oil flowing from the well and provide the basis and methodology for that estimate, along with any uncertainty or error ranges for the estimate.
  14. BP has suggested in press reports that it is focused on closing the leak, rather than in measuring it.  Are efforts to close the leak inconsistent with efforts to measure its volume?  Why wouldn’t such efforts actually be complementary?
  15. Using estimates of 5,000 barrels per day, 40,000 barrels per day and 70,000 barrels per day, and further assuming that the leak continues for another 60 days, what is the projected extent of the spill in square miles and the amount of Gulf coastline in miles that would potentially be affected by such a spill?

The figure of 70,000 barrels a day was reported by National Public Radio, and was reached through calculations by a Purdue University professor, utilizing a technique called particle image velocimetry to determine the volume of the flow. NPR reported the method is accurate to a degree of plus or minus 20 percent, meaning the flow could range between 56,000 barrels a day and 84,000 barrels a day. A separate analysis performed by a Florida State University scientist indicates that the spill could easily be “four or five times” larger than the 5,000 barrel a day estimate, the New York Times reported. Other reports have also indicated there could be increased flow.

PLEASE NOTE: The House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming was created to explore American clean energy solutions that end our reliance on foreign oil and reduce carbon pollution.

The Select Committee was active during the 110th and 111th Congresses. This is an archived version of the website, to ensure that the public has ongoing access to the Select Committee record. This website, including external links, will not be updated after Jan. 3rd, 2010.

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